What Your Drink Says About You When You Fly
When you're ordering a drink from an airport bartender or flight attendant, you're sharing a lot more than just whether or not you want a twist or an olive in your martini — you're also revealing what kind of flyer you might be. So say the kindly servers that mix your cocktails.
"If someone orders a vodka gimlet on a flight, it tells me volumes about the individual," said Estelle Comboni, a New York-based flight attendant of 23 years for a major US airline and a member of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union.
We asked Comboni and bartenders at some of the most acclaimed airport bars in the US to weigh in on what your drink says about you as an airline passenger. You might want to finish your round before you read on — their conclusions are revealing.
How You Order
How you drink says as much or even more about you than what you drink, according to Derek Smith, bar manager at Root Down DIA in Denver International Airport (DEN).
"It's not just the particular drinks they order, which comes into play, of course, but how they order them," he said.
Rocks vs. No Rocks
Do you order drinks on ice? Then you're the kind of person who wants to get the experience over with and get on with your trip, Smith said. Rocks drinkers are more likely to be time-obsessed and fussy about schedules.
Prefer your drinks neat? You're probably a sipper, someone who likes to take his or her time to enjoy a spirit. Drinkers who order liquor without ice are lingerers and less time-obsessed, Smith said.
Unlike regular bars, airport bars get a customer sometimes nicknamed a "mad dasher."
"It's the person who's got cash in their hands, won't make eye contact with you, just comes in and says, 'I want a Coors Light and a double shot of bourbon,'" Smith said. "They're always looking over their shoulder because they see their gate 300 yards away getting ready to board. It's someone who's in a hurry and doesn't want to pay $20 for drinks on a plane — though they're going to pay that at an airport bar anyway."
In a lot of cases, Smith said, you're looking at someone who's anxious about flying and needs to get a buzz on to deal with it. Mad dashers can also be last-minute packers and poor planners who spent the last couple hours frantically stuffing undies into a suitcase while arranging for a car service.
Slow Burners vs. Delay Pounders
How a drinker deals with a flight delay says volumes too, Smith said. Typically, passengers awaiting boarding at an airport bar change their drinking pattern in one of two ways: They either slow down and begin to pace themselves, or they see the delay as an opportunity to get blitzed.
"The person who switches from a stiff drink to a beer or a glass of wine once they realize they're delayed? They're longer-term thinkers," he said. "They realize they have three more hours they have to spend here, and they don't want to stop drinking but they don't want to overdo it, so they switch from the Manhattan to the Coors Light."
On the other hands, those who use the extra hour or two to get hammered by switching from a beer or wine to hard booze are often just all-around impatient, unhappy people who don't take the delay well at all.
"They're the annoyed and depressed people who just want to be put out of their misery," Smith said.
People Who Expect Mixology on a Plane
If you're expecting mixology-level cocktails while you're on a plane, then think again — most of the equipment and supplies needed to make them came off most airplanes years or decades ago.
"If someone were to order a vodka gimlet, it tells me you haven't flown us in a very long time, since it's been well over 15 years since we carried Rose's lime juice," Comboni said. "If someone were to order a martini, I could be really sassy and go, 'Would you like it vigorously shaken or gently stirred?' But the point is I wouldn't have the shaker, the stirrer or the vermouth, so I'd probably say, 'We're not going to have a martini today.'"
There's a little more you can tell about people who don't order just a fancier cocktail on a plane but an old-school one like an old fashioned or a Manhattan. That's someone stuck in a different era, Comboni said.
"That's my passenger who used to fly Pan Am in Clipper Class," she said. "That's a Mad Men orderer."
People Who Alter Specialty Drinks
At most airport bars, you'll find a laminated list of house specialties, cocktails that (in the more upscale places) a bartender has carefully designed to complement the food and personality of the bar. They're often created by a professional who cares deeply about his or her craft and wants the customers to have a great experience.
But some customers will make a hash of the specialty cocktails and, confident they know better than the men and women behind the bar, demand substitutions and alterations. It's kind of like a passenger telling the pilot how to land the plane.
"They're the people who say this cocktail that's made with gin, but they don't like gin, so they think it'd be better with vodka," Smith said. "These are people who are vain and have fragile egos, and they're almost definitely always showing off for their friends."
When Smith gets an order at DIA for anything made with Red Bull, he knows exactly where that person is headed.
"Automatically you assume they're going to Vegas," he said. "They don't want to sleep and they want to get a little buzz on. They just can't wait to get there and start gambling."
In fact, Comboni said, Las Vegas flights break all the rules when it comes to drinking in the air.
"You can be pretty much guaranteed you will have no alcohol left anywhere on the plane at the end of the flight," she said. "It's pretty much whatever you have. If you're out of Jack Daniels or wine or beer, they'll just ask you what's left."
For flights departing from Sin City, it's the opposite.
"Everybody's asleep leaving Las Vegas," she said. "Everybody's partied hard and they're exhausted. It can be the quietest of all the flights, truly."
What You Order
If you are what you eat, then it goes doubly for what you drink.
"If I had to pick one kind of drinker I'd steer my friend away from for a date, I'd go vodka," Devon Eagle, bartender at One Flew South in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL). "Me? I'm a whiskey, tequila and scotch lady."
Why does vodka get a bad rap among airport bartenders? Well, partially because when it comes to choice of spirits, there's the vodka drinkers and then there's everyone else, our professionals agreed.
"Vodka tends to be everybody's starter spirit, and some people never get out of their comfort zone," Eagle said.
"Vodka people are the ones who like the effects of alcohol but don't care for the taste," Smith said.
Professional mixologists naturally tend to prefer making drinks that are about the flavor and craft, and that push them to their creative limits. Uncreative, unadventurous vodka drinkers rarely fit that bill.
Bourbon drinkers, on the other hand, are a completely different animal, especially if they're asking the bartender to reach for the good stuff, like the Pappy Van Winkle that makes an annual appearance at the One Flew South bar.
"Whiskey drinker are pretty laid-back," Eagle said. "When they're looking for something nice, they're going to sit around and enjoy it."
The stuff of country-club afternoons and your grandfather's beard after Thanksgiving dinner, Scotch is still the domain of the silver-fox set, according to some bartenders.
"I find most Scotch drinkers tend to be older gentleman, and usually businessmen," Eagle said.
Scotch drinkers also have a tendency to find each other in a bar and quickly find common ground, whether it be discussing politics or sports.
Not surprisingly, rum attracts a party-hearty set that is eager to get the vacation started as quickly as possible.
"Most of them are already pretty mellow, and they're looking for something more tropical," Eagle said. "The tequila and rum crowds are definitely the most adventurous."
Another group of imbibers willing to venture into unknown territory, but with a tendency toward an arguably more sophisticated palate, the gin drinkers are usually the ones who have been around long enough to develop a taste for juniper, a berry that novices often avoid for tasting too medicinal.
"It's definitely people who are more knowledgable in food and beverage, and more open to flavors like juniper," Eagle said.
Rivaling the rummies for being fun-loving, tequila drinkers can be intriguingly complex — by nature reserved but also fueled by curiosity about other people.
"Personally, it's my favorite spirit," Eagle said. "I like to call myself an extroverted introvert, uncomfortable around people in large crowd, but at the same time it's my job and I'm very good at it."
Wine is often the top seller at airport bars and on flights, and wine lovers are typically decisive and well-informed about what they're eating and drinking, and how to pair the two.
"They know what they like," Eagle said.
The issue with wine drinkers in the air, though, is that sometimes self-styled wine connoisseurs don't take into account the differences in taste and smell they experience at altitude. They then become pedantic or ornery when the wine they love at home tastes like flat Sprite at 39,000 feet.
"Invariably you get that wine customer who wants to share his or her knowledge with you, and while it can be interesting, it can also be problematic," she said. "That person ordered a red wine, for sure."
Old-School Beer vs. Fancy Beer
The craft-beer movement has split American beer drinkers into two separate categories. On the one hand are the people who like the old-school US beers that come in cans and are advertised with slow-motion horses and gravelly voiced narrators intoning the virtues of Colorado mountain streams.
"Their god is football, and they tend to be middle-aged men and women who'll watch whatever game is on," Eagle said. "They're looking for Michelob Ultra and Bud Light and things like that."
Then there's the guy who only drinks craft brews, who loves to debate whether Russian River Brewing's fabled Pliny the Younger is superior to its Pliny the Elder. They're curious to the point of geekdom about what they drink, but they can also fall into the trap of becoming know-it-alls.
Certain specific cocktails deserve special attention for what they say about the people who drink them at airport bars. Brunch drinks — we're looking at you, mimosa and bloody Mary — are extremely popular among air travelers, Smith said.
"We have a running joke. We call it the 'airport mimosa': almost all alcohol with just a little bit of juice," he said.
Brunch drinkers are those seeking the comfort of the familiar in the midst or at the end of a trip, Smith said. In addition, on a plane, ordering a bloody Mary or a mimosa is a sure sign that you're not an international traveler, Comboni said.
"We get a lot of requests for bloody Marys on the transcon flights, but mostly what it says is that you're a domestic traveler, and that your passport says the United States," she said. "It's something my international, non-US passengers never order."
Gin and Tonics
On flights, the No. 1 cocktail order is probably gin and tonics, followed by similar drinks like vodka tonics and vodka sodas. Comboni said passengers who order these are usually businesspeople coming back from a successful but exhausting work trip.
"They're A-type personalities who have had a day," she said. "They're the rulers of the universe, things happened, and now they just want to let out a happy sigh, kick back and relax, and enjoy their cocktail.
When she's taking orders for in-flight drink service, one drink that sends up a red flag for Comboni is a boilermaker (that "cocktail" made by dropping a shot of whiskey into a glass of beer).
"That will actually make me roll my eyes to the sky," she said. "That's the one you know could be a problem child, absolutely and without a shadow of a doubt."
Comboni said she deals with it by gently persuading the passenger to stick to one regular drink at a time, forestalling disturbances from a potentially raging boozehound.
Finally, though those who sip traditional martini drinks typically fall under the category of gin drinkers (sophisticated, willing to try new experiences), flavored-martini drinkers deserve completely separate consideration, Eagle said. To put it bluntly, they're commonly the kind of people who avoid eye contact with servers, conspicuously name drop, and drive convertibles made in Bavaria.
"Chocolate martinis are just a little over the top," she said. "I guess, in general, that person is just a douchebag."